Formula One eyes turn to Macau Grand Prix 14 Nov 2003
This weekend's Macau Grand Prix, the annual Formula 3 event held on the Guia street circuit, could provide a glimpse of the Formula One stars of the future. Among the past winners of the prestigious race are Michael and Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard and Ralph Firman.
The Macau event, which this year celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, hosted its first F3 race in 1983, when the winner was a young Ayrton Senna. Since then it has become recognised as something as a proving ground for up-and-coming motorsport talent, bringing together the best drivers from the world's premier F3 competitions.
Michael Schumacher took victory in 1990, but only after losing the first of the race's two heats to future Formula One adversary Mika Hakkinen, and then controversially colliding with the Finn in the second. Second place went to future Ferrari and Toyota star Mika Salo, while Schumacher's future team mate Eddie Irvine was third.
David Coulthard was victorious the following year, while the 1992 race saw Jacques Villeneuve finish third. In 1995 all three podium spots were again filled by future Grand Prix stars, with Ralf Schumacher winning from Jarno Trulli and Pedro de la Rosa.
Jordan's Ralph Firman, who will be completing demonstration runs in his EJ13 at Macau this year, crossed the line first in 1996, seeing off the likes of Trulli, who came home third, Nick Heidfeld and Juan Pablo Montoya. Jenson Button was runner-up in 1999, while his BAR team mate for next season, Takuma Sato, won in 2001.
Among the field for the 2003 Macau Grand Prix are several drivers who have already tested with Formula One teams. Australian Ryan Briscoe, an occasional Toyota tester, is one of the favourites for the race, having finished second in Friday's final qualifying session.
Fellow Australian James Courtney, who has tested for Jaguar in the past, is also among the contenders, as is Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian driver, who tested with Jaguar and Jordan in 2001, crashed out of the lead of the Macau race in 2000, shortly after then team mate Takuma Sato had done the same.
The 2003 event will also feature some rather more familiar names - Piquet and Rosberg. Nelson Piquet Junior (pictured), son of the Brazilian triple Formula One world champion, has been a front runner in this season's British Formula 3 series, while Nico Rosberg, son of 1982 champion Keke, was the second best rookie in this year's F3 Euro series.
Formula One race director Charlie Whiting is in charge of proceedings at Macau this weekend, but chances are the eyes of many a Formula One team boss will also be focussed on the event, just in case a new Senna or Schumacher should emerge.
See also: Jordan prepare for historic Macau outing